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“I felt like I was finally finding a safe place: helping people in my community to live in peace and without fear. And also feeling my family had safety from being poor – from always working hard, but finding that it was never enough.”
This is how Pei To describes getting a deminer's job with MAG as a 19-year-old in 2004.
At that time she lived in a small house with her parents, three sisters and two brothers in Ny Pech village, Kampong Thom province.
The family had a small patch of agricultural land they used to produce rice to feed themselves. They earned some additional money by cutting and selling firewood, and finding manual labour on construction sites whenever possible.
"I was given the great chance to work with MAG by the commune council and the Church World Service organisation [MAG's partner, which recommended Pei To as a potential employee], as they saw the difficult situation my family was living in,” Pei To says.
She worked in a Mine Action Team for two years, but in 2006 the team lost funding and had to be disbanded. Pei To was unable to find another job and struggled to support herself.
Thankfully, in 2007 MAG received further funding (from the US Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement) and Pei To was rehired.
A year later she married, and then gave birth to a daughter. She and her husband Than Thou bought their own house, and she paid for three of her brothers and sisters to go to school.
“Today, my family’s situation is better," she says. “This job improves my family’s living standards and gives me the chance to work with the Government in the areas of poverty reduction and mine clearance.
"MAG helps local people to get jobs, and helps them to help their own communities and other communities like theirs, reducing poverty in different parts of the country.
"I would like to express my deep thanks to MAG and to the donors, and my wish is that donors will continue to provide funding to my team so we can keep helping communities.”
As a result of nearly three decades of conflict, Cambodia remains one of the countries most severely affected by landmines.
With about 80 per cent of the rural population being dependent on agriculture or related activities, in addition to the physical danger thousands of Cambodians remain socially and economically disadvantaged by the threat of landmines, cluster munitions, air-dropped bombs and other unexploded ordnance (UXO).
These lethal remnants of conflict present a major impediment to Cambodia’s economic growth. In recognition of this, mine and UXO clearance is a high priority for the Royal Government of Cambodia, proven by their inclusion of clearance in National Development Strategic Plans and in the established ninth Cambodian Millennium Development Goal for landmine and UXO clearance and victim assistance.
Despite ongoing mine clearance activities for two decades, landmines and UXO continue to inhibit development progress and kill and maim people throughout Cambodia.
There are thought to have been more than 27,000 landmine and UXO casualties since 1992. In recent years, casualty figures showed an annual downward trend, with the Cambodian Mine/UXO Victim Information System recording 352 landmine and UXO casualties in 2007, 271 casualties in 2008 and 243 in 2009.
However, in 2010 this figure rose again, to 286. This rise can partly be attributed to two serious anti-tank mine accidents during 2010 – one in Palin in May, and a second in Battambang in November – that between them killed or injured 30 people.
Figures for January-December 2011 showed casualties numbering 211, and the most recent 2012 figures (January-June) showed there have already been 104 casualties. Battambang Province, where MAG primarily operates, is by far the most impacted region, recording 27 per cent of all casualties in 2011-12.